National Security Agency surveillance program leaker Edward Snowden answered questions during a live chat from Moscow Thursday where he denied stealing the passwords of his colleagues to obtain the collection of secret documents that have been leaking since last summer.
“I never stole any passwords, nor did I trick an army of co-workers,” Snowden said referring to a Reuters report from November that alleged the former agency contractor convinced up to 25 of his colleagues to give him their login information to access the documents detailing classified surveillance programs.
When asked what he thought the proper role of U.S. national security should be, Snowden conceded that “not all spying is bad,” but thought, “The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day.”
“This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in U.S. history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap,” Snowden said before warning about the creation of “databases of ruin” full of potentially private or embarrassing information that could be used in retroactive government investigations.
In answer to a question tweeted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Snowden said current whistleblower protection laws make it impossible for him to return to the U.S., as the laws with the strongest protections, which President Obama said Snowden could have used, do not apply to contractors.
The first question Snowden answered was whether he thought U.S. democracy could recover from the damages to civil liberties agencies like the NSA have caused with mass surveillance.
“Yes,” Snowden answered. “What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.”
Snowden fielded questions on the same day the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released its assessment of NSA’s phone metadata collection programs, condemning them as unconstitutional and calling for them to be shut down.
In a speech last Friday President Obama announced changes to the permissions and policies NSA surveillance programs, and among other changes, said the storage of bulk data could be transferred to a third party with stricter access standards in the future.